0 How fast is your grass growing?

Jason Haines, Golf Course Superintendent at Pender Harbour Golf Club in British Columbia, Canada, offers his thoughts on the benefits of measuring clipping yield.

One of the biggest single expenses of any golf course is cutting the grass. Therefore, if we want to make the biggest impact on improving the efficiency of our turfgrass maintenance programme, we should look to how we grow our grass. Specifically, how fast we grow the grass.

There are so many unknowns that turfgrass managers deal with every day, it is a miracle that we are as successful as we really are. One of the biggest unknowns, and areas where we are forced to guess, is how fast we grow the grass.

Back in 2011, I started measuring clipping yield as a way to reduce the spread of disease in the winter months from mowers. I didn't want to send the mowers out unless I was actually cutting the desired amount of grass. While I still try to mow as little as possible to prevent the spread of winter diseases such as microdochium nivale, I have also learned how the simple act of measuring the clipping yield on your golf greens can have a huge impact on your budget and quality of turfgrass playing surfaces.

Dr. Micah Woods (Asian Turfgrass Center www.asianturfgrass.com) defines greenkeeping in his book, A Short Grammar of Greenkeeping as "… managing the growth rate of the grass to create the desired playing surface for golf." This way of thinking completely revolutionised the way I manage my golf course.

Here are a few examples of how this has impacted our operation. By being aware of growth rates and only mowing when necessary and not just on the date on a calendar, we have reduced the amount of mowing across our entire course by 40%, reduced fuel use by 40%, and labour by 40%. This not only reduces the cost of mowing, it also results in mowers lasting twice as long!

We have also reduced the amount of fertiliser by 80%, the cost of fertiliser by 95%, and have seen our conditions improve and pest issues become easier than ever to manage.

This, of course, was possible because, before we started measuring the growth rates of our grass, we were simply growing the grass way too fast for our specific climate and amount of traffic! I highly doubt that these shocking figures would be possible at every golf course.

Measuring clipping yield is so easy that you can't afford not to do it. As we already collect the clippings when we mow the greens, we only need to simply dump the clippings into a pail with marking on the side indicating litres of grass collected. We can record this information on only a few greens or on all the greens depending on how specifically we want to manage our greens. By dividing the total yield per green by the area, we can get a figure that we can use to compare one green to another.

Measuring clipping yield has helped us reduce mowing but has also helped us better manage diseases such as fusarium and dollar spot without the need for as much fungicides. By growing the grass at the appropriate rate for the time of the year, I have managed to significantly reduce the need for corrective action. You can read more about this on my blog: www.turfhacker.com

For a turf nerd like me, the biggest advantage of measuring clipping yield has come from knowing how fast the grass is growing and only applying nitrogen fertiliser to achieve the desired growth rate which is required for my specific site. We all know that the organic matter in the soil contains a lot of nutrients but the problem has always been knowing when the soil is releasing these nutrients for our grass to use. Typically, this is what is happening when we get huge growth flushes and are forced to manage mountains of clippings across the course.

By being aware of the growth rate, and how fast we want to grow the grass, we can simply not fertilise the grass if we continue to get the desired growth rates. This has allowed me to reduce fertiliser rates and use the huge nutrient reserves contained in the soil to produce consistent conditions.

The benefits might go further as now that we are able to use the soil organic matter to feed the turf, we can limit excessive organic matter build-up and potentially the need to manage the organic matter with disruptive practices such as core aerification, topdressing and verticutting.

Think about it: the reason we need these practices is because we have a build-up of organic matter, and this is probably because we are forced to guess how fast we grow the grass. Could the simple act of measuring how much grass we mow be the solution to these expensive practices?

Even if you doubt this will have a significant impact on your operation, I challenge you to try it once. Measure how much grass you mow off each green on your property and see if the growth rates help you manage your turf better.

This article first appeared on Golf Industry Network www.golfindustrynetwork.ca

About Jason Haines

Jason Haines is the golf course superintendent at Pender Harbour Golf Club in British Columbia, Canada.

He is a passionate turfgrass manager with a love for the outdoors and enjoys trying new things and pushing his personal boundaries.

He achieved a diploma in turfgrass management technology from NAIT (Fairview College). He also received an award from Golf Course Industry magazine in 2014 for Best Blog/Savvy Social Media and was a Merit International Winner for the 2017 Environmental Leaders in Golf Awards.

He is an active user of social media (@pendersuper) and has been sharing his ideas about greenkeeping on his blog www.turfhacker.com since 2011.

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